On a sunny, warm June day in Tokyo, Japan our Quirino clan gathered around a monument marker as it was unveiled in historic Hibiya Park. The marker was Japan’s gesture of gratitude for the late Philippine President Elpidio Quirino, 6th Philippine President (from 1948 to 1953). Japan was honoring our “lolo” (grandfather) Elpidio for his acts of clemency. In 1953 President Quirino officially pardoned Japan and repatriated hundreds of POW’s. He found it in his heart to be merciful in spite of the World War II atrocities especially the massacre of President Quirino’s own wife, Alicia and their three small children by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Battle of Manila in February 1945.
And so this is how peace begins. Forgiveness is the answer. Healing starts with forgiving. President Quirino’s pardon of the Japanese was an unpopular decision among his constituents, his opposition and other countries. In fact, it was political suicide and caused him his presidency. But the man was a visionary. As a world leader, he knew that Japan would someday emerge as an important global ally.
Generations after, the Quirino grandchildren and great-grandchildren gathered together in Japan to witness what the legacy of President Quirino showed the world. That peace can be achieved with “tolerance, goodwill and love.”
And this is why we were in Japan recently for a whole week. What a week it was. After the Quirino event at Hibiya Park, our family of four stayed on and had a birthday vacation. My son, Tim and I share the same birthday week. Plus it was the American “Father’s Day” weekend, so we celebrated.
If you haven’t been to Japan yet, it is one of the most beautiful countries to visit in Asia. From the east coast, it is a 15 hour flight non-stop to Tokyo. We landed in Narita airport and took a shuttle service to the luxurious Imperial Hotel, about an hour away.
Every day was a travel adventure for us. In Japan we did all these: we toured world-famous historic sites like Mount Fuji and Kyoto, we shopped in the most modern department stores and we were adventurous eaters.
But one of the most favorite things I was eager to relish in Japan again was the Castella or “kasutera” as the Japanese call it. We bought one loaf cake at a large department store in Ginza and brought it back to our hotel room. This is a simple loaf cake made from eggs, milk and oil, baked then brushed with honey all over and encased in a plastic wrap so the sweetness is absorbed inside.
Japanese desserts are mild and sweetness is understated. The Castella is an example. There is no butter in the loaf cake, yet you savor creaminess in the texture from the milk. The honey is absorbed by the golden brown topping, so every slice is divine.
I loved Japan but I couldn’t wait to return to my kitchen in the USA to bake a Castella. I had baked it before after a previous trip. But I wanted to bake it again. It is true that food brings back memories. The creamy slice of castella in my kitchen, in my home, paired with a good cup of piping hot matcha green tea evoked sweet memories of our week in Japan… a week that started with an act of forgiveness and a gesture of peace more than 60 years ago.
More stories about what to do and where to go in Japan coming in my future blog posts. Stay tuned, folks!
Japanese Castella Sponge Cake
- 5 pieces egg yolks
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup warm milk
- 1/4 cup for cake batter organic honey
- 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
- 5 pieces egg whites
- 1/4 cup for the egg whites granulated sugar
- 2 Tablespoons for cake topping organic honey
- 1 Tablespoon to mix with honey topping warm water
- Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Line the bottom of a loaf pan, measuring 8 inches x 3 inches, with a height of 4 inches with parchment paper.
- Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, that is placed atop another bowl filled with hot water. Using a hand held mixer, beat the egg yolks until very thick, about 5 minutes.
- Combine the hot milk and 1/4 cup honey in another bowl. Lower the speed of the mixer and slowly add the milk and honey to the egg yolk mixture.
- Sift the flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in thoroughly.
- Beat the egg whites in a clean bowl on medium speed until the bubbles are fine and the whisk forms a pattern. Add the sugar gradually and continue to beat until thick and glossy.
- Fold about one third of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently but thoroughly.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 35 minutes. The center of the cake should spring back when lightly touched. Remove the cake from the oven.
- Brush the top of the cake immediately with honey thinned with warm water.
- While still warm, remove the cake carefully from the pan and put it inside a large plastic bag until it cools. The trapped heat in the bag will cause a little condensation to form which will keep the cake moist.
- Slice the cake evenly to serve. Serve the Castella slices unadorned, as is the tradition, with a cup of tea.
- PHOTOGRAPHY CREDITS: Many thanks for the following whose photos I used in this blog post -- 1) The President Elpidio Quirino Foundation for the Quirino clan photo at the Hibiya Park Monument; 2) Pauline Quirino Varanal - for our family of 4 photo; 3) Tim Quirino - for the photo of Constante Quirino at the Kyoto temple ; 4) All food and Japan photos by Elizabeth Ann Quirino.